One ascends to Jerusalem – both physically and spiritually. Forty of us from Temple Beth El ascended to our Holy City this past Thursday.
We ascended to Kabbalat Shabbat as we welcomed Shabbat and celebrated with our sister congregation, Birkat Shalom. Since 2004, we have partnered with them and they have become our family. Rabbi Gold visits us and we visit her. Our bonds are strong and we rejoiced with them as the first group they welcomed into their brand new, beautiful synagogue building.
Three of our students, Avery, Stella and Zach, ascended to become B’nei Mitzvah, leading a memorable Shabbat morning service. Cantor Mary lifted us in song in the garden of the Hebrew Union College overlooking the Old City. (HUC is the seminary where all our Reform clergy spend their first year of Rabbinical or Cantorial school.)
We ascended to the rooftops of the Old City for our Shabbat afternoon stroll of seven miles as we explored the four quarters (Armenian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish). From the Western Wall to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Dome of the Rock, we saw some of the holiest sites of the three Abrahamic faiths.
At 4:30 am on Sunday, we had an early wakeup in order to ascend Masada. Twenty five of us had an early exhilarating morning climb to the top where we met up with our counterparts who took the cable car. We learned about the Zealots who fought off the Romans in 74 CE but ultimately took their lives in defeat. They chose death over brutal Roman captivity. We learned about the Israeli commitment that “Metzada shaynit lo tipol – Masada shall never fall a second time.”
And then we were in the depths as we headed to the Dead Sea which is 400 meters below sea level (the lowest point of the earth on dry land) where we floated and covered ourselves in the mineral rich mud. Tomorrow morning, we will explore a different depth as we wind our way through Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It captures an historic and tragic depth and our will, as a people, to rebuild. And then there is low energy that sometimes hits when exhaustion overcomes our bodies despite our high spirits. This trip is chock-full of meaningful experiences.
In a week from now, our Beth El Israel travelers will be back home in Charlotte having experienced the highs and lows of the Jewish history and of the land we call home that we share. We will return as a Beth El family of sorts savoring the strong bonds and the memories we have created.